To mitigate against the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) on pharmacy businesses, the National Pharmacy Association is asking the government to consider a series of urgent contingency measures.
They have called for contingency funding for pharmacies that are required to close due to staff shortages caused by COVID-19. The NPA has said that even short periods of closure can have a significant effect on pharmacy finances when profitability is at a low level, as is the case now for many pharmacies after years of underfunding.
They have also indicated that many pharmacies are small businesses with existing cash flow problems. Coronavirus could exacerbate this situation, so an NHS scheme may be necessary to brings forward payments to pharmacy businesses and cover shortfalls.
To help pharmacies maintain continuity of service to patients, the NPA is calling on government and the NHS to consider the following:
- Ensure that pharmacies are included in any reporting of COVID-19 tests for their patients so that they can respond as required (for example closing for cleaning and re-opening).
- Strengthen central guidance on how local responses to coronavirus will be managed and who will coordinate local responses and communication in relation to community pharmacy.
- Consider the knock-on impact of limited hospital capacity for palliative care; community pharmacies might find themselves helping more people in the community at the end of life.
- Save time in the dispensing process by moving to original pack dispensing, rather than breaking packs to reach the prescribed number of tablets.
- In the event of medicines shortages, allow Serious Shortage Protocols to include branded generics so that switches can be made without the need to return to the prescriber.
- Suspend obligations for non-time-dependent pharmacy tasks (noting that the national clinical audit has been postponed in England).
- Allow flexibility in relation to re-packing medicines for sale from a bulk pack.
- Recognise pharmacists and pharmacy staff as key workers in relation to measures designed to maintain vital services (for example travel measures).
PSNC is already in discussions with the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSE&I) to plan for the potential later phases of the COVID-19 outbreak. Similar discussions are underway in other parts of the UK. The NPA is confident that all concerned are conscious of the need for further support and protection for pharmacies.
NPA chief executive, Mark Lyonette, said today:
“In addition to meeting requests for advice about preventing coronavirus, pharmacists are carrying on with their everyday tasks of treating minor illnesses, helping people to manage long term medical conditions, safely dispensing prescriptions and providing urgent care. Community pharmacy is on the NHS frontline and absorbs pressure that would otherwise fall on other parts of the system.
“As always, community pharmacy is playing an invaluable role by diverting routine activity away from other parts of the health service facing extra workload. Therefore it is very important that pharmacies are supported during this period, to stay operational as businesses and effective as frontline providers of patient care.”